Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Food for Thought

I always find it difficult to decide on what food to take on a trip. Breakfast and snacks are easy it's the main meal that always gets me. I've tried shop bought instant pasta packets (Pasta in a Cup) with pre cooked sausage and some cheese added to spice it up but it tends to taste a bit artificial, I've tried dehydrating my own meals using a Westfalia Dehydrator which only cost £26.99 but haven't had a great deal of success there either, the dehydrator works just fine but the meals seem to lose some of the flavour during dehydration, in fact one of the supposed benefits of Freeze Dried meals over dehydrated is that they don't loose flavour. I also find that home dehydrated meals don't rehydrate properly in a cozy, I imagine they'd be better re hydrated directly in the cooking pot but that increases the amount of fuel that I'd need to carry. Of course maybe I'm doing it wrong but I'm beginning to think the whole home dehydrating thing is a bit over-rated or at least some of the issues are glossed over. Again if I'm wrong I'd welcome any advice that would help me avoid the pitfalls.

I've tried commercially available Dried Meals, (Mountain House/Real Turmat/Reiter) and to be honest they're fine once you figure out which ones you like and I've also tried Wayfarer meals.

I recently discovered (thanks to Outdoors Magic) pre cooked meals called 'Look What We Found' These are similar to Wayfarers in that they're already cooked and come in a foil pouch which simply needs re-heating by placing the pouch in a pot of water and bringing to the boil, obviously at 300g they're twice the weight of a dried meal but they don't require you to add water so you save a bit of weight there. These are very nice indeed but due to the type of stove I use and the size of the cooking pot they're right on the limit size wise, the other problem is that they come in a printed pouch with a self adhesive label which makes the water used to heat them unusable for any other purpose. Now there are various ways around the problem, I could empty the contents into a plain boil proof bag and use the water for a brew or empty them into the pot and re-heat them directly but then I'd need to use water to clean the pot prior to making a brew and I'd be using 2 x the amount of fuel, once fill to heat the meal, another to make a brew. They were tasty though and I was determined to carry 1 LWWF for every dried meal alternating between them but when I checked the energy value (Kcal) they're about half what a Reiter or Real Turmat is. I think that's going to rule them out to be honest, I don't want to carry 2 x the weight per meal, use 2 x the amount of fuel, 2 x the amount of water and after all that get half the kcal value.

I like to make up day packs which weigh about 750-850g each. Breakfast consists of 165g Muesli/Extra Fruit/Whitener/Sugar, snacks consist simply of cereal bars/chocolate bars/Cuppa Soup x 2/Instant Drinks x 2 to be used between breakfast/main meal/breakfast. I make my desserts from half packets of Birds Instant Custard/Semolina in a ziplok bag with dehydrated fruit added. I don't drink tea, only coffee so I carry 3 x 250ml Nalgene bottles with coffee, sugar & Whitener. In addition I keep a pouch of grated Parmesan and some sachets of salt/pepper.

Of course meal packs are always a work in progress so who knows where i go from here. With all the items for one day set out it doesn't look like much but so far it seems to be enough.

1 Day Ration Pack, Main Meal not Included

L to R,
Real Turmat, Beef/Potato Casserole, 145g/585Kcal
LWWF, Beef in Black Velvet Porter with Potatoes, 308g/201Kcal
Reiter Travel Lunch, Hungarian Beef & Noodles, 142g/483Kcal


I've just seen Hendrik Morkels post on his Blog, 'Hiking in Finland' with the same title as my post here so I'm adding a link (Hendrik has also kindly provided the link in the comments section)

Hiking Finland, Hendrik Morkel 'Food (for Thought)'


I found some more information regarding Dehydrating on Andy Howells site so I'll post a link.

Andy Howell, Dehydrating


  1. Food is my next challenge....
    Overnight trips are next on the agenda and there is scope to experiment. But for longer trips...

    On the round-the-coast trip I'm looking at 40-45 nights away. £5 a time packet meals are probably beyond my pocket. I should be covering 100+ miles a day so I guess I can expect to pass a shop or two even in the Highlands and just buy as I need. Home dried food in resupply boxes is a possibility/probability and I'm not as space confined as a backpacker but, hmmm, it is going to need some thought.

    Ok, so do you organise ration packs for a longer trip?

  2. I haven't yet tried the commercially available foods, and neither have a dehydrator, but instead use the ready-made pastas or rice + spices which work fine. Will try Real Turmat on the next trip I think, and a dehydrator is in the planning. I find snacks more difficult to choose, jus so much to choose from! Breakfast is easy, though - müsli + fruits + milk powder.

    btw, had a post with the same name just last week - http://hikinginfinland.blogspot.com/2009/07/food-for-thought.html

  3. Richard, I would kill for the Rieter Travel Lunch you mention. Mostly I stick with them now (except the chill con carne - which I find dosen't rehydrate well, or at least the kidney beans don't). I also use the Pasta-n-Sauce mixtures but add spice (mainly chilli flakes of curry powder, or both!)
    I too have tried home dehydrating and have been disappointed with the resulting re-hydrated meals.
    Hope you sus something soon.

  4. I can't really get away for more than 5-6 days at a time so really 4 day packs are enough (for 5 days) I don't need the breakfast/lunch snacks on day one and don't need the main meal/evening snacks on day 5.

  5. Over a longer trip the Kcal value becomes more important but keeping the cost reasonable also increases in importance. I think it requires a mix of commercially available meals and something put together from normal supermarket products. Regarding the dehydrator I can get the mice to rehydrate just fine but I think I might use instant noodles rather than spaghetti and possibly one of those one-shot Dolmio sauces. The LWWF meals are tasty and cost less than specialist camping meals so maybe some noodles or powdered potato would up the Kcals a bit.

  6. Hendrik, thanks for the link to your post, I've added the link to the main post here.

  7. I've not done this sort of trip since before I was married (so I guess about 20 years back!) so the memory is a little hazy...
    I think I used to work on the basis of never passing by a cheap cafe - buy and eat is no weight to carry!
    I guess milk&musli works as it can be made up with either cold or hot water depending on conditions. I assume that is just a tablespoon or so of 'Marvel' thrown in there? Just so it doesn't taste like water...
    Presumably that instant porriage also works?
    Banana custard... Hmmm.... I'm planning a 10 mile pack test walk on Sunday. Field test of dessert could be a good plan if it is cold and wet!!!

  8. quote Rob,

    guess milk&musli works as it can be made up with either cold or hot water depending on conditions. I assume that is just a tablespoon or so of 'Marvel' thrown in there? Just so it doesn't taste like water...

    I use Tesco Coffee whitener.

  9. Ok, Tesco shopping list:
    Milk/coffee whitener
    9p instant custard
    straight spagetti (to try cooking/dehydrating/rehydrating)
    6p instant noodles

    Sauces/mixed veg I can play with at home. Mrs Rob is busy drying everything that isn't nailed down (watch out cat!).
    Any other essentials I need to pick up whilst there is an expedition going? Then I can usefully experiment for weekend lunches...

  10. I'd go for the 'Birds' instant custard, it's more creamy and is meant to made with water (some brands recommend milk)

    Small Packet Tesco Grated Parmesan (50g)
    Pasta in a Cup Tomato flavour

    Mrs Mathesons Smoked Sausage (Eat hot or cold) I normally divide it in 2 and slice it up and put in ziploks before I go. Eat half for 1st night main meal and rest for 2nd day lunch.

    Add all the above together (no not the custard ;-)) and it makes a cheap and reasonably tasty if slighty artificial meal. Add Dehydrated shrooms if you like.

  11. Of course you don't actually need any of that: I take ready-to-eat food which doesn't weigh a lot more, and I don't have to carry any cooking equipment at all - zero weight.

  12. Hi Geoff, what kind of ready to eat food? do you mean like bread cheese, cooked meats etc or something else?

  13. I have a list (somewhat out of date) of the stuff I take in the Food&Drink subsection of my Wild Camping section.
    The breakfast and midday food is easy, plenty of variety available there, it's the savoury evening meal that always presented the problems. A while ago we discovered the John West light-lunch things, packed in a tough foil container. I take these along with a bit of salad like a little gem lettuce and a tomato.

  14. Thanks for the link, Mac. sectionhiker.com also had recently a post or two on his Menu list for his 9 Day hike, good stuff to be found there, as well.

  15. Gt a dehydrator and get dehydrating. I've said it before and I';l say it again — this is the best backpacking gear purchase I've ever made!

  16. Hi Andy, I have one and I've been reading up on your blog but I haven't had a great deal of success. Fruit/Veg and even steak mince is fine but I have problems with Pasta and pasta sauce. Tried pasta sauce on it's own and with cooked mince but rehydrated FBC style in was pretty watery/thin and had a slighty burnt taste/lack of proper taste.

  17. Dehydrating your own food is the way to go, it just takes a little practice as to what works. Have got a veggie spag bol on the go as I type this. If food has a burnt taste try dehydrating on a lower temperature for longer. When you get to camp soak for a bit whilst sorting yourself out. Bring to the boil in the pan then pop in pot cosy for 20 mins - should be cooked.
    The best thing dehydrated is a lentil dal - when camping just add boiling water and cosy for 5 mins and done. No funny taste.

  18. I'm with Andy and James - stick with the dehydrator! He makes some good points about the drying business on his site. The bit about food loosing flavour is easily rememdied by putting a herb or spice pack in with the meal.

    I've few recipes on my blog including a veg chilli and lentil dahl, and as James says it's just add water and let sit in a cozy.

    And you get to control what goes in the food so there's no nasty aditives...

    Geoff has an interesting take on food. I've tinkered with his approach but for me I want a cup of coffee in the morning. And the option to make some thing hot to eat/drink to stave off hypothermia should that become a threat.

  19. I like the Look What We Found ranges, they are very tasty and they have a lot of variety but you're right they are quite low on kcals.